Pinoy flavors for the homesick in Japan
() - August 7, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Unlike many Filipinos living in far-flung localities abroad, Pinoy expats who have made their home in the little town of Toda in Saitama, Japan do not need to crave for the flavors of the Philippines. Thanks to Ana Ishikawa, the hardworking vice president of Ana’s Trading, one of the most progressive Filipino specialty stores in Toda, Filipinos there are able to get their hands on authentic Filipino products and ingredients to recreate the comforting flavors of home-style Filipino cuisine.

Ana’s success is built on faith, hard work, creativity and the desire for a better life. “If you have the courage to try and the faith to believe, there is nothing in life that you cannot achieve,” she said.

Born in Alaminos, Pangasinan, Ana grew up in a poor community. Her parents Gonzalo and Soledad Acha toiled hard by tilling the land and fishing the waters close to their home in order to raise their brood.

Even as a child, Ana dreamt of going abroad to improve her family’s quality of life. The fourth of 10 children, she wanted to travel to distant lands and find work so she would be able to help her parents in raising her siblings, especially in sending the younger children to school.

After graduating from high school, she packed her bags to try her luck in Manila. She first worked as a sales merchandiser at one of the biggest store chains at that time. For three years, she learned the ropes of managing a retail business, of merchandising and marketing. With patience and perseverance, she was able to share in sending her younger siblings to school.

But Ana found it increasingly difficult to support the growing financial needs of her family. Ana saw the difficulty as an opportunity to try her luck abroad.         

She came to Japan in 1987 and found the language and culture totally different, making her first years an endlessly challenging experience. Because she did not speak the language, Ana experienced racial discrimination. She underwent hardships and the loneliness of being away from the familiar surroundings and warmth of home. But she persevered to be able to adapt to the new way of life. She enrolled in Japanese and English language schools to further her communication skills.

Eventually, she met and fell in love with Toru Ishikawa. Five years after setting foot in Japan, Ana married the hardworking businessman. Four years into the marriage, Ana and Toru decided to put up Ana’s Sari-Sari Store in the town of Toda in Saitama. Their limited capital allowed them to sell just 30 kinds of Philippine products. In the beginning, they personally delivered orders to only 20 customers.

Ana devoted great effort to the budding business enterprise, dividing her time between taking care of her family, managing the sari-sari store, and overseeing the day-to-day operation of her other business: Ana’s Carinderia. This small eatery is an offshoot of one of her early ventures which was to sell food door to door. Her customers looked forward to Ana’s culinary offerings because of their wholesome flavors.

Her secret was Mama Sita’s mixes and sauces. She said, “I’m very grateful there are Mama Sita products available in Japan. Using Mama Sita made it convenient for me to cook Filipino food in a foreign country. I am always assured that the final flavor would be truly Filipino. Kaya marami akong customers!”

Husband and wife worked long hours every day to improve and expand the business, to give quality and friendly service. Thus, the small sari-sari store built 14 years ago has grown into a wholesale store, carinderia, and import and export business. In 2004, Ana and her husband changed the business name from Ana’s Sari-Sari Store to Ana’s Trading.

Today, Ana’s Trading is highly regarded for the quality of its merchandise. It has evolved into one of the major distributors of Philippine products in Japan, including Mama Sita’s line of sauces, instant mixes and seasonings. Ana still uses Mama Sita’s products in her catering business, making Filipino food readily available to expats living in Japan, and introducing the wonderful flavors of Philippine cooking to Japanese foodies.

Through Ana’s Trading, Filipinos in Japan are able to reconnect with cherished Filipino customs through the flavors of time-honored Filipino cooking.

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